Alex Rodriguez is going to spend a very lonely 2014 season banned from playing baseball while attempting to fight his year-long suspension in federal court. Notably, he will do so without further backing from his union, despite his efforts to become a cause-rallying martyr.
Frederic Horowitz, the arbitrator chosen by Major League Baseball and the Players Association, ruled on Saturday that the Yankees third baseman would be suspended for all 162 regular season games and any applicable postseason games this year for his violations of the collectively bargained joint drug agreement as they pertain to his connection with the Biogenesis clinic. This was a reduction from the league's initial 211-game ban that was announced in August but remains the longest non-lifetime suspension in baseball history.
This verdict is a clear win for the league, which belatedly got serious about drug enforcement but now can pride itself on having the toughest program in American professional sports. It suspended 13 players for their ties to the Biogenesis clinic who did not appeal and has now seen its ban on a 14th player upheld by the arbitration process.
The league sought an unprecedented suspension for Rodriguez and got it, even if the final number was only about three-fourths of the original. MLB said in August that it was banning Rodriguez for "his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances" and "for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation."
It is also a victory of sorts for the Yankees, who save roughly $25 million in salary on an aging and declining player who'd be worth, at best, half that if he were on the open market. It also may help them maneuver under the $189 million luxury tax threshold that would save them dozens more millions in tax savings.
New York could use the money it would have owed Rodriguez to improve its club in other areas, such as signing Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka. And, of course, Rodriguez's absence will greatly diminish the unwanted distractions around the club. The franchise's only statement was this: "The New York Yankees respect Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the arbitration process, as well as the decision released today by the arbitration panel."
Rodriguez, who has often spoken of protecting his legacy, will go down fighting, which he made clear in a statement he released Saturday. Among other things, he said, "I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline." Rodriguez insisted that "the deck has been stacked against me from day one" and that his upheld suspension was "one man's decision," referring to Horowitz, rather than "a fair and impartial jury." (A jury trial is, of course, not the system outlined by the joint drug agreement.)
Rodriguez notes again that he has never failed a single test and alleges that the league's case "relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable."
On the former count, he is correct about a lack of penalty-incurring failed tests (though SI reported in 2009 that Rodriguez tested positive in the purportedly anonymous 2003 survey test). However, the JDA permits bans for non-analytic positives, such as documentary evidence. (Manny Ramirez, for example, was suspended on such grounds in 2009.) On the latter point, there have been concerns raised about the league's methods of obtaining evidence, but the evidence was credible enough to convince the arbitrator and the 13 other players who were suspended last summer for their links to Biogenesis, none of whom even appealed those punishments.
In order to curry sympathy and support from fellow players, Rodriguez wrote, "This injustice is MLB's first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review."
These are not reasonable league demands within the purview of the next CBA, but Rodriguez seems to be making such accusations to instill fear in his fellow players so that they might come to his backing. Rodriguez is hoping -- and apparently failing -- to convince others that his fight is the union's fight.
The union, for its part, "strongly disagrees" with the season-long ban but, importantly, adds, "We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision." In other words, the Players Association will not be aiding Rodriguez in his court challenge, rendering its aforementioned strong disagreement as little more than pro forma posturing. Rodriguez will have only his own considerable resources to use for his fight in federal court.
A victory there is thought to be unlikely for Rodriguez, given that courts are hesitant to interfere with the parameters of a collectively bargained agreement. Thus, the probability is that he won't be eligible to play a meaningful baseball game again until the 2015 season, during which he'll turn 40. Rodriguez's exorbitant contract owes him $61 million for the '15 through '17 seasons, however, so one assumes he'll make every effort to return and collect that.
Whether the Yankees will welcome him back or cut bait is a serious consideration. Rodriguez, a three-time AL MVP winner, played only 44 games last season after returning from hip surgery and produced a little above the league average, much as he had in 2011 and '12, when he also missed long stretches with injury.
Rodriguez has always been regarded as one of the sport's most talented players and, for more than a decade, he has been its most highly compensated one. Now, barring a longshot federal court victory, he'll be remembered as one of its most tarnished.